Beginner Aquarium Fish Keeping: Top Ten Things to Do in Order to Keep Your Saltwater Fish Alive by Lev Ingman

Beginner Aquarium Fish Keeping: Top Ten Things to Do in Order to Keep Your Saltwater Fish Alive by Lev Ingman


In order to keep most salt-water fish alive and healthy in the long run, you must you’re your salinity somewhere close to between 1.019-1.026. If you have a fish only aquarium, it is best to keep the salinity towards the lower end of the spectrum because it discourages parasites and makes it easier for your fish to breath. If you have a tank with corals it is best to keep salinity toward the higher end of the spectrum because corals generally prefer more salt in water. If you have a combination of both, then it is best to keep your salinity in the middle of the spectrum.

The ideal salinity for brackish water fish is between 1.010-1.015, but these fish can often tolerate everything from totally freshwater to totally salt water as long as they are allowed to acclimate slowly to these different salinities.

In order to check for salinity you can use either a hydrometer or a refractometer. A refractometer is usually far more accurate than a hydrometer, which can be thrown off by salt crystals that form on the indicator arrow. A refractometer can also be calibrated to perfection whereas a hydrometer can only be calibrated by saying that it reads either to high or to low. A good refractometer will save you money in the long run, because after about a year many hydrometers become completely inaccurate, whereas a good refractometer can last you for years.

Make sure that when water evaporates you top your tank off with fresh water, not salt water. This is because when water evaporates, the salt stays in your tank. Since the amount of water decreases due to the evaporation, the amount of salt stays the same and your salinity will go up. Monitor the salinity closely, especially if you get a lot of evaporative loss, because that will cause your salinity to go up.


In salt-water tanks, the PH should be kept as close to 8.3 as possible. Depending on what city and state you live in, the PH of your tap water will be different. To address this issue, the first thing you should do is check the PH of your tap water. In Los Angeles, the PH of tap water in most homes that do not have water softeners or other filters built in is around 7.5. Neutral PH is 7.0, so Los Angeles PH is considered to be on the high side (basic), whereas PH below 7.0 is considered to be on the low side (acidic). If you have a saltwater fish tank, the salt that you use to mix with your water will generally have a buffering agent mixed into it. Usually buffering agents will be designed to raise your PH to 8.3. It is best to check the PH after you mix the salt into the water, especially the first time, to ensure that the tap water has been sufficiently buffered to around 8.3. A PH test kit can be used to check the water and make sure the PH is close to 8.3.

Naturally, the PH will tend to decrease as a result of metabolic processes that occur in your tank. You should use the PH test kit to check your PH every week, and you will notice that it is best to use small quantities of an additional buffering agent to keep your PH high. It is not important that your PH is exactly at 8.3 and your fish will not generally die as a result of your PH slightly off, but overtime they will show adverse affects of un-preferential PH. Try to keep your PH between 8.1-8.4 and your fish will love you.

If you have a reef tank, keeping PH stable is slightly more complicated and we wont get into the details here.


Most tropical fish prefer temperature to be between 78-82 degrees. It is also important that the temperature fluctuate as little as possible. Your fish will usually not die as a direct result of minor temperature fluctuations, but their immune systems can be seriously compromised, making them more susceptible to diseases and parasites. It is for this reason that a good heater is supposed to be used to maintain a stable temperature that is within a comfortable range. Generally, the rule of thumb is to use between 3-5 watts per gallon of water. That means that if you have a 50-gallon tank you should use a heater that is between 150-250 watts.

You must also make sure that your aquarium does not get to hot. Most types of equipment used in fish tanks, such as pumps and lights, will generate some amount of heat. As a result of these items producing additional heat, you must not rely on your heater alone to accurately control your temperature. A glass thermometer that sits in the tank is very important so that you can ensure that the temperature in the tank is actually what the heater says it is.

Depending on a variety of factors, including what the climate of the city you live in, what kinds of lights you have, and how many electrical devices you have in your water, your temperature may rise above the preferred temperatures limit, even if you do not even have a heater. In this situation you will need to purchase a chiller, which can be used to cool the temperature of your tank.


Often times people loose fish and do not even realize that they have a parasite problems. The most common types of parasites that are found in the aquarium hobby are Ick and Flukes.

Ick can be most easily seen on the fins of your fish. When fish become infected it looks like their fins have been salted. In fish tanks that do not contain any invertebrates or scaleless fish, the use of a copper product like Cupramine or CopperSafe is highly suggested as a preventative or treatment for ick. You should keep the level of copper at .05 and you should use a copper test kit to ensure that the level stays at around that point.

In a tank that contains invertebrates you cannot use a copper product because it will kill the invertebrates. The only way to successfully treat ick in a tank with invertebrates is to use a properly sized UV Sterilizer.

The other major type of parasite is flukes. Flukes are small opaque worm type parasites that live on fish. If you notice cloudy eyes or that your fish are scratching their gills, this may be a sign that they have flukes. You can easily treat for flukes by using Prazi-Pro, which will not effect invertebrates except worm inverts(feather dusters, coco worms, etc…). You can also usually tell that your fishing have parasites if they are “Scratching” themselves by diving into the sand and scratching their eyes or gills.

           Electrical current-

If you are going to invest all this money into getting a salt-water fish tank, invest a few extra dollars into getting a Grounding Probe to eliminate any electrical currents that may be produced by your equipment.

Please buy a grounding probe to protect yourself, and make your fish happy and healthy!

            Water quality and chlorine-

Use a de-chlorinating product every time you need to use water from the tap! Every time you need to top off your tank, or mix salt water, you must use a de-chlorinating agent. Many products on the market contain additional “water conditioners” that will make your protein skimmers go crazy. We recommend De-chlor as a simple and effective way to remove chlorine and heavy metals without causing skimmer issues.  Proper biological, chemical, and mechanical filtration is also extremely important. Please refer to the blog about the three types of filtration that are necessary for each tank.

           Oxygenation and Circulation-

Fish use their gills to breath air dissolved in water that they are swimming in. Thus, it is very important to provide effective circulation so that your fish do not suffocate. Circulation should cause some surface agitation so that gas exchange can occur at the surface. Oxygenation via an air pump and air stone are not necessary if you have enough circulation and oxygen can enter the water via gas exchange cause by surface agitation. Use an extra Power-head  to move water around and make your fish happy! We recommend a water turnover of at least 5 times per hour. That means if you have a 10 gallon fish tank, your total water circulation should be at least 50 gallons per hour. The more fish you have the more circulation you will need.


Your fish must eat! Be careful because overfeeding can also kill your fish! Feed enough so that your fish eat for between 1-2 minutes and minimize the amount of food that hits the bottom. It is better to let your fish eat a very small amount twice a day than to feed your fish a large amount once a day. However, the minimum is once a day for most fish species. If you are going out of town get a good quality automatic feeder. The vast majority of people overfeed! If you have to ask, “Am I overfeeding?” The answer is probably yes, you are. Remember less is better.

          No Chemicals-

Do not use windex, or any other household cleaners on or around your tank because you will kill your fish!


Make sure that the fish you buy are compatible and are not going to kill each other!



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